Could the House agree to a ‘unity candidate’ for speaker?

UNITED STATES – NOVEMBER 15: Reps. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Michael Waltz, R-Fla., right, arrive for the House Republicans’ leadership elections in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images) Tom Williams/AP

Could the House agree to a ‘unity candidate’ for speaker?

Samantha-Jo Roth

January 06, 06:35 AM January 06, 06:36 AM

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After GOP divisions led to successive failed ballots for speaker, Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) said centrist Republicans could be “willing to consider working with Democrats at some point” to elect a centrist speaker if the stalemate continues, although other Republicans say that idea is off the table.

There’s been talk about what would be a nightmare scenario for the band of conservatives who continue to reject GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)’s bid for speaker. That potential outcome still seems a long way off, but fatigue is beginning to set in after negotiations have failed to produce a breakthrough.

Bacon, who represents a district won by President Joe Biden, has consistently voted for McCarthy over 11 failed ballots. However, he has publicly floated the idea of working with Democrats on a consensus pick if Republican holdouts continue to be unwilling to compromise.

“They can’t get to yes on anything. But, at some point, we know that there comes a time when you’re going to have to work with Democrats and it’s going to be a Republican speaker. But, it’s going to have to involve some concessions to get there,” Bacon said to reporters right off the floor of the House chamber on Thursday evening.

The Nebraska congressman hasn’t ruled out supporting an ex-member for speaker if McCarthy were to withdraw from the race. In mid-December, he said they could consider former Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and John Katko (R-NY) as alternatives. While he said there aren’t serious negotiations on this front currently, he’s received phone calls from former members asking to be considered for the job.

“If Kevin pulls his name, I think some of these folks are options. Fred Upton’s a potential guy up the road,” Bacon said. “Some of them are calling me, saying, ‘Please consider me.’ I’m all Kevin right now, but if Kevin refuses to be part of the team, I think some of these folks are options. This case is going to involve, how are you going to get to 218?”

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Bacon reiterated his problems with what the holdouts are asking for, such as their desired committee assignments:

“We’re not going to do affirmative action for the smallest caucus we have. You gotta earn it; you’ve got to earn it by merit. So, that’s where most of us dig our heels in.”

In an interview with Fox Business on Thursday, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL) noted that “the frustration is through the roof” and warned that it has led to preliminary conversations about power sharing and compromise between some centrist Republicans and Democrats.

“I am absolutely against it. But, there are discussions going on with the Democrats about sharing committees, about not allowing subpoenas, about having a 1-to-1 ratio of Republican and Democrat,” he said. “Some of our moderates are getting fed up in Biden districts. They get a voice too, and they are starting to talk about power sharing. That’s what folks like my friend Rep. Bishop and the others need to realize. They are going to find another door.”

But many Republicans in the caucus say such a deal is unlikely, pointing out most members ideologically have more in common with the anti-McCarthy holdouts than with the centrist Democrats.

“That scenario is never going to happen,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) to reporters. “We can talk about shadowy alternative candidates that may come out of nowhere. But, right now, Kevin McCarthy is still holding on the strongest here.”

“So, when you see so many of us spending time in a passionate way, talking on that floor, I think it’s evidence of the fact that there is still a path forward for Kevin McCarthy,” he added. “If people had just decided to get divorced, they would quit talking.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) told NBC News building a coalition with Democrats to elect a speaker is “off the table.”

“I don’t think anyone voted to do that. I don’t think that works very well in any time. I think it’s particularly unsuited to these times. The polarization is too great,” he said.

Democrats remain united behind incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) on all ballots for speaker. When asked if Democrats have discussed making demands in exchange for helping Republicans gather enough votes to elect a consensus candidate, Jeffries said the short answer is no during a press conference on Thursday morning.

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Some Democrats have started conversations about compromise with Republicans, but those discussions are not gaining much traction.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said she wouldn’t rule out working with Republicans to resolve the speaker battle. The New York congresswoman said Democrats would need more concessions from Republicans beyond increasing committee ratios in order to gain their cooperation.

“I mean, hey, if we could get some chairs,” she said to reporters following a Democratic caucus meeting Wednesday afternoon.


Other Democrats, such as Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), said he would be open to giving Republicans a lifeline from the speakership drama in an interview with Fox News.

“I would consider the right Republican,” Khanna told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto. “But there needs to be two conditions: One, you can’t have a debt ceiling debate or shut down as something that takes the country hostage, and two, [there has] to be some agreement on subpoena power. I’m open to a Republican who could work to put the interests of the American people first.”


With negotiations ongoing, it appears centrist House Republicans are not, at this point, serious about utilizing their leverage and cutting a deal with Democrats. The showdown over electing the next speaker could foreshadow how centrist Republicans may interact with their colleagues in future political battles, like raising the country’s $31.4 trillion borrowing limit this coming spring or summer or funding the government. Some anti-McCarthy rebels are already threatening to derail those must-pass bills unless they are attached to conservative priorities.

“The debt ceiling. I’ve got some concerns about how negotiations are going to go over that in our caucus. But, we’ll get to that point when we get there,” Bacon said.

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